Cops 1, protesters 0

The P.R. savvy Washington police force scores a major victory at the World Bank/IMF protests.


Jake Tapper
April 18, 2000 8:00PM (UTC)

Though the World Bank/International
Monetary Fund protesters have definitely
introduced the concept of fear of
corporate globalism to a fat and happy
America, it would be tough to construe
their rallies and marches here as an
overwhelming success. Monday's rally,
scheduled to take place on the Ellipse
between the White House and the Mall,
was canceled due to inclement weather,
though many skeptics wondered if the
protest's dwindling numbers also
contributed to the organizers' decision.

But the real winners this weekend
were the Washington police, who showed
that when given carte blanche to keep
the peace, they are more than willing to
overprepare and overreact. By Sunday
night, 725 protesters had been arrested
-- many just caught in the wrong place
at the wrong time, others having
resorted to hostility or violence, some
with scars they'll be able to show their
grandkids.

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Throughout the weekend, the Metropolitan
Police Department prepared for the
worst and displayed what many saw as
unnecessary zeal. Humvees and cops in
full riot gear squared off against
scrawny hippies, motorcycles were used
as street sweepers, red-herring "fire
violations" were trotted out to close
down the protesters' headquarters. All
weekend long, small eruptions of
brutality were used as a warning sign
and reminder of the cops' license to
kick ass.

On Monday morning, since the police
department had urged Washingtonians to
skip work, many normally bustling city
streets in downtown were abandoned. It
was a post-apocalyptic vision, with
sirens blaring and whistles shrieking,
which was then interrupted by a
disconcerting, deadening, silence.

For the most part, the police tactics
worked -- at least by the narrow
definition of success set by Mayor Tony Williams and
Police Chief Charles Ramsey. The IMF and
World Bank meetings went on pretty much
as planned with seemingly few
inconveniences inflicted upon their
boards, and many protesters who stuck
around through Monday seemed dedicated
but terrified.

Monday morning at the intersection of
20th and Pennsylvania Avenue, for
instance, a few hundred protesters
staged one final effort at civil
disobedience. Dozens tried to break
through barricades into the area around
the IMF and World Bank buildings that
police had cordoned off, while still
others sat in the middle of the
intersection blocking traffic.

Cops were having none of that -- they
pepper-sprayed to get people to move,
and arrested 250 for charges ranging
from crossing a police line to
"incommoding" -- blocking public access.
Many were chased down and clubbed to the
ground. And though the department maintains it only uses pepper
spray, one officer threw a tear-gas
canister, which was later said to have
been a simple mistake.

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By noon, 20th and Pennsylvania had
become Ground Zero for what was left of
the rallies. Hundreds of protesters
stood facing the armada of cops, almost
all of whom were wearing body armor,
helmets and gas masks. Tension hung in
the air like a noose. That is, except
for this one time when a protester
shouted, "We're tired! We're cranky!
Shut the World Banky!"

Ramsey was out in full force, of course,
for his men and women in blue. Ramsey
has always been brilliant at public
relations and his performance this
weekend was no exception. The Washington
media has generally made not a peep
about some of his force's more egregious
displays of bullying and brutality. No
doubt much of this is due to the common
man's historical and fundamental
distrust of rabble-rousers. Still more
indifference can be chalked up to the
cluelessness and odd appearances of many
of the visiting anarchists, as well as
the inconvenience their visit displayed.
On the area's leading "alternative"
radio station, WHFS-FM, Monday morning,
the DJs were mocking the protesters'
hippie ways.

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As always, at 20th and Pennsylvania,
much of the dirty work fell into the lap
of executive assistant chief of police
Terrance Gainer, Ramsey's right-hand
man. Gainer plowed his way through his
army -- one of the protesters had the
foresight to blare a tape of the Darth
Vader theme from "Star Wars" -- and
ambled up to the barricade where he was
instructed to find out how to bring the
conflict to a peaceful resolution. At
this point there were far too many
television cameras there for Gainer to
give the cops the go-ahead to start
busting.

Out in the crowd, three or four large,
muscled men, quickly pegged as
undercover cops, stood on a corner and
tried to make themselves look
inconspicuous. It didn't work -- Serpico
these guys were not. Protesters started
chanting "Cops! Cops!" and pointing them
out to others.

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Soon a small crowd had surrounded them.
"Why don't you show your badges?!" a
number of them cried. Their cover blown
(perhaps the plastic handcuffs on the
belt were a bit of a giveaway), the
"cops" soon walked off and protesters
applauded, pleased with their
accomplishment. It would be their only
one of the day.

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Back at the border of Copland-Phishtown,
protesters handed Gainer flowers -- a
bouquet that he held onto for several
hours. On the right, at the scene is
department public information czar Sgt.
Joseph Gentile. Protesters were very
aware of the presence of the media, and
took great pains to be seen as the good
guys. Some sang "We Shall Overcome,"
though they didn't seem all that
familiar with the lyrics.

Since the protest movement has no real
leader -- its members shun hierarchy --
it just so happened that the designated
negotiator was a woman who identified
herself as Mary Bull. Bull is shown here
calling out to her fellow "Tactical
Team" members.

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They'd then retreat to a small huddle
where they'd vote on the various
negotiations with Gainer. Hundreds of
protesters faced a conundrum: They
wanted to make an attempt to get to the
World Bank building and stage a protest,
but none wanted to be whacked upside the
head with a billy club. Thus, they
negotiated with Gainer as to 1) whether
the cops would remove their gas masks
and display their badges as a show of
good faith and a tangible sign that no
one would be gassed or brutalized; 2)
how many steel barricades would go down.
The protesters wanted six, the cops said
two; and 3) how many protesters, arms
linked, could walk through the barricade
and down the street a few yards before
getting -- peacefully -- arrested. The
negotiators wanted 15, the cops had
wanted one at a time, single file.

As Ramsey surveyed the scene, one
protester shouted to him, "Hey, Chief!
Are you going to gas us?!" Ramsey said
"No." And sure enough, after hours upon
tedious hours of negotiations, the cops
removed their gas masks. Many protesters
took this to be a major victory, though
others could be heard griping at the
essential wimpiness of this particular
altercation. "Ramsey looks like he's the
one who made peace!" groused a
protester. His friend tried to reassure
him: "If they [the media] use anything,
they'll say that the protesters gave the
policemen flowers, which will make us
look good," she said.

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... Meanwhile, as Bull told the crowd,
"the people who are willing to risk
arrest will come forward and then sit
down." ("... And then crawl on hands and
knees," sneered one disappointed
protester.) "And one row at a time will
stand up, and walk to the World Bank and
there the police will arrest us." Here a
member of the National Lawyers Guild,
there to monitor the events on behalf of
the protesters, checks to make sure that
no one from the front row has any
medical problems they'd need attention
for in prison.

Finally: a tremendous anticlimax. Bull
and wave after wave of protester
peacefully entered the barricade and
were promptly arrested, around 300 in
all, putting the arrest total as
of Monday afternoon at around 1,250.

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I was told that Tim Robbins and Susan
Sarandon were in the house, but I didn't
see them anywhere, though there were
hundreds of young protesters shouting
their support at a fairly safe distance
from the cops.


Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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